News Column

There are different ways to experience banking

February 16, 2014

the PropellerHeads

Dear PropellerHeads: I feel like I am on top of my finances - I mean, my check register is always up-to-date.

But I get nasty looks at the market when I whip out my checkbook. Is there something else I should be doing?

Answer: I am impressed that your ledger is in good standing - but yes, that was me giving you the stink eye in line at the Piggly Wiggly.

I realize that we are not in a check-free world yet, but we are almost there; so in the meantime, burn your book and figure out what you want to get out of your banking experience.

Is accessibility the key? Do you need to see a brick-and-mortar to get that warm feeling inside. Or do you want to use only an ATM branded with a name you know? Then stick with the big dogs.

Bank of America (, Capital One (, Wells Fargo (, and the like all have easy-to-use online banking systems and an accompanying app that will take care of most of the things that you need while providing a branch to give you a financial hug if you need it.

If you don't plan to visit the branch, these institutions offer free transfers, bill pay, check deposit imaging and bank-to-bank transfers at no, or minimal, costs.

They also offer a whole spectrum of financial services. So if you want to have all your business - from your cash, to your loans, to your investments - all in one place, on one site, in one app; you can.

With a big bank, you get accessibility and options, but you also get the structure that goes along with it: fees. Use a different bank ATM; fee. Overdraw your account; fee. Visit a teller; fee.

For someone who grew up with "checkbook discipline" this might not be an issue, but for those who have always relied on plastic and do most of their budgeting on their phones, this can prove challenging and sometimes expensive.

You might be able to skip some of the fees but get the brick-and- mortar feeling you need from a credit union, but there might be accessibility trade-offs technology and location wise.

Don't need to see the bank, but want it to feel like a bank? Companies like ING Direct ( and Ally ( built their banks on the premise that they would not build banks.

ING Direct, now Capital One 360, had one flaw when stepping into this market. You needed a traditional account to link your ING account to in order to successfully set up transfer relationships.

With the acquisition by Capital One and some recent face-lifts, this issue has been smoothed out.

But it is suspiciously looking like every other big bank and not the alternative, with the high interest rate, no fee, no paper appeal that it once had.

Ally seemed to have some potential as a no hassle, simple alternative to traditional banking. It has all online presence, photo check deposits, bill pay, no fee cash withdrawals, Popmoney payment options (to send payments to your family and friends), and 24/7 customer support via online chat or phone, for those who need a personal touch.

Unfortunately, Ally has been slapped with negative reviews for customer service and site efficiency.

One newer option is Simple (, a "banking alternative." No fees, no minimums, full access and real-time budgeting and notifications geared toward the mobile user.

Realistically this is very much a start-up. At this time, they only offer a checking option, so you would probably need to maintain other banking relationships.

One of the main selling points of this product is the "How much can I spend now?" component. As a company, they focus on realistic budgeting and goal setting on a basic level.

Your current balance is fine-tuned to an available balance that takes into account upcoming bills and basic financial goals that you have set for yourself; thus combining the functionality of budgeting programs such as Mint ( with your "banking" in one easy interface.

Can I really afford that pair of shoes? Yes. One swipe of your Simple Visa, you get a notification, update to your app and basically have the warm fuzzy of an up-to-date check register.

Simple believes that if you are in tune with your goals and interactive with your spending, there is no need for fees because you are less likely to overspend.

Overall, the reviews are pretty strong at this point.

A few complaints with the hold/wait time for deposits, but the app experience and service level praise is what is causing the gain in popularity, so much so that there is a waiting period to open an account.

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Source: Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)

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